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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Never-Ending Curriculum Debate

by Ihor Cap, Ph.D.
Early Curriculum Foundations
Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) prepares individuals for useful, gainful employment (Finch and Crunkilton, 1999).  TVET is not new. It dates as far back as 2000 B.C. to the first organized apprenticeship programs for scribes in Egypt.  These programs followed two training stages. In the first training stage apprentices learned to read and write ancient literature. In the second, they served as apprentice scribes under experienced scribes who were usually government workers (Roberts, 1971).
The Goals of Education
The goals of education today are very similar. They consist of two basic elements: (1) formal education, which occurs in a structured setting, and (2) informal education, which occurs outside the school setting. Deliberate planning is not a given in the latter form of schooling.    Superimposed on these elements are (1) education for life, and (2) education for earning a living (Finch and Crunkilton, 1999). 
The Historic Curricular Issue At Heart
The foregoing implies that curriculum making should encompass general-academic education as well as vocational-technical education, together representing a comprehensive array of learning activities and experiences. While most North American educators and administrators today may subscribe to these views, it has not always been that way.
History always emphasized one type of education more than the other, usually because of philosophical, economic and/or social disagreements. Most issues that arose in practice emerged from these disagreements, suggested Leighbody (1972). No educational issue has received so much debate as that of the relationship between vocational and general education (Leighbody, 1972).
A cursory survey of philosophical readings concurs with this viewpoint. It has been discussed by:
Plato –in terms of the academy’s univocal or unilateral long-term education vs the Sophists multivalent short-term education,
Spencer - in terms of objective education vs subjective education,
Mann – in terms of comprehensive education vs general education,
Eliot – in terms of liberal education vs utilitarian education,
Friere – in terms of problem-posing education vs the banking-concept of education,
Stephens – in terms of formal vs informal education,
Bruner – in terms of useful vs ornamental education, and
Dewey – in terms of education for life vs specialization in education.
Additional Observations
The underlying assumption of this historical issue typically required a choice between one type of education over the other, and upon this premise strong philosophical disagreements have arisen between those who favor vocational education and those who believe that only liberal studies are educative (Leighbody, 1972).
For example, Plato claimed to provide people for a “choice” between the worse and better life in an organized, interdependent society. Though he professed the principle of equality and specialization, he aimed at making the Guardians (the highly trained philosophic elite of the Academy) the least dependent in an organized society. The Guardians curriculum would be streamlined to approximate the truth in one vocation (to become future leaders) for which they were “naturally fitted” while the Sophists’ (professional administrators) multivalent curriculum was written-off as the inferior “choice” simply because it served the short-term educational needs of the population.
By the 19th century, Mann argued from a sociological, humanistic and perhaps an economic perspective as well when he wanted to see Pestalozzian methods applied to vocational education as part of the general education of the public. He argued that a sound and comprehensive education and training would enable a great body of citizens versus a minority of leaders to have an equal chance for earning. The tool that would produce more useful and contributing citizens to society rather than dependents would be the common school.
Eliot reintroduced the controversy of liberal versus utilitarian education. He maintained that the traditional high school curriculum was suitable for the youngster who headed for work or for college. However, understanding well that only a small minority of students would pursue a liberal college education beyond high school, he, therefore, introduced the notion of freedom in choice of studies at the college level.  Despite his well meaning intentions, Eliot instead compartmentalized education into polytechnical vocational colleges and liberal academic colleges that continue to form separatism in education.
There is a growing realization that it is increasingly difficult to compartmentalize education into general, academic or vocational-technical components. Many influential curriculum models have surfaced during the 20th century, Charters (1923) and Tyler’s (1949) amongst them, but they fall short on implementation or evaluation.  We need a comprehensive approach to curriculum making. We need an approach that prepares us for life and for work.  Oliva’s (1984) expanded model for curriculum development is illustrative of just such an approach. A very comprehensive strategy to instructional development, curriculum development and staff development is applied within a model of Supervision For Today’s Schools by highly respected authors George E. Pawlas and Peter F. Oliva (2007, ©2008). Alternately, vocational-technical educators and administrators will find comprehensive and practical planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating assistance following Finch and Crunkilton’s  (1999) effective frameworks for developing quality technical and vocational education and training programs.
Reading References
Bruner, J. S. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge : Harvard University Press. LB885 .B78 1965X
Charters, W. W. (1923). Curriculum Construction. New York: Macmillan.
Cornford, MacDonald. Francis. (1945). Plato - Author. The Republic of Plato. Translated with Introduction and Notes by F. M. Cornford. New York: Oxford University Press, 1945
Cremin, Lawrence A., ed. (1957). The Republic and the School: Horace Mann on the Education of Free Men. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dewey, John. (1916) Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: MacMillan, 1916; New York: Free Press / London: Collier-Macmillan, 1944).
Finch, C. R, & Crunkilton, J. R. (1999). Curriculum development in vocational and technical education: Planning, content, and implementation (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon
Friere, Paulo. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. [New York] Herder and Herder, Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos. Bib ID 2528455.
Krug, A. Edward. (1961). Charles W. Eliot and Popular Education. (Classics in Education, no.8; New York, Bureau of Publications, Teachers’ College, Columbia University.
Leighbody, B. Gerald. (1972). Vocational education in America's schools; major issues of the 1970's. Chicago: American Technical Society.
Oliva, F. Peter. (1984). Supervision For Today’s Schools. Second Edition, Longman Inc., New York.
Pawlas E. George and Oliva, F. Peter. (2007). Supervision for Today's Schools, 8th Edition, ISBN 978-0-470-08758-9, June 2007, ©2008.
Roberts, Roy. W. (1971). Vocational and Practical Arts Education. New York: Harper and Row.
Spencer, Herbert. (1866). Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 448 & 445 Broadway.
Stephens, J. M. (1967). The Process of schooling: A psychological examination.  New York: Holt,. Rinehart & Winston.
Tyler, Ralph. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Author Information:
Ihor Cap, Ph.D.
Ihor Cap is a graduate of The Florida State University in Comprehensive Vocational Education and a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in Canada.  
This article first appeared June 26, 2010 in